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Q&A: Don't pay heed to 'Trumpisms' and keep cases low

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President Donald Trump points at the Sun as he arrives to view the solar eclipse at the White House (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Donald Trump points at the Sun as he arrives to view the solar eclipse at the White House (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Donald Trump points at the Sun as he arrives to view the solar eclipse at the White House (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Q Donald Trump appeared to suggest disinfectant can help treat people with coronavirus. Is there any science behind this?

A In Kerry we often answer a question with another question, so here you go: Would you allow Donald Trump to treat any physical ailment you have? A headache, broken leg or back pain? Didn't think so. The makers of popular household disinfectant brands have warned "under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body". The world might be desperate for a vaccine but scientists say the US president's suggestion is dangerous. Trump has since backtracked and claimed his suggestion coronavirus could be treated with an injection of disinfectant was "sarcastic". If a pitch on his hit TV show The Apprentice had been laced with such tones, someone probably would have been fired.

But we should still use it to clean surfaces, right?

Absolutely. Everyone is encouraged to continue practising good hygiene. This is one area where we are likely to see significant cultural changes for everyone's benefit. The way we shop is going to change long term, with many retailers looking to keep social distancing measures, organised queueing and protective screens in place for the long term. Businesses anticipating staff returning to work in the coming weeks and months are likely to put new hygiene measures in place that will alter how staff use communal facilities, bathrooms, stairways and elevators.

So this sounds like people are getting ready to come out of lockdown?

May 5 has been earmarked as a date when we could see some freedoms return but this will only be done on a gradual basis. So even if health officials are satisfied the rate of infection is low enough to lift restrictions next week, it is unlikely we are going to see a whole lot change. The 2km limit might grow to allow people to travel further distances for exercise, but it is likely there will still be a limit. It's unlikely people will be able to flock to holiday homes anytime soon. We will all still be expected to limit our contacts in some way, most people who can work from home will probably continue to do so and the pubs certainly won't be opening.

So restrictions are staying in place?

The reality is restrictions are going to be a feature of life for some time. The severity of those restrictions will change depending on how the virus is spreading. At present our reproductive rate, a number measuring how the virus is infecting people in the community, is somewhere between 0.5 and 0.7. This means each existing infection causes less than one new infection. If this rises above one each infection causes more than one new infection. This number needs to remain low for restrictions to gradually ease.

What happens if this number starts rising?

If the infection is spreading rapidly officials will want to lock things down again to stem its progress. On March 16 our infection rate was 4.3. We went in to lockdown on March 27 and by the end of last month the infection rate was 2.5. This shows the number does not have to get very high for a lockdown to be deemed necessary. If the number rises in the next week, we are likely to have to stay in lockdown beyond May 5.

So if this number stays low we should see fewer cases of Covid-19?

That's the idea. Hopefully, once a vaccine is created this number will get even lower and the virus will be virtually eliminated. There was a jump last Thursday when 936 people were confirmed as new cases, this was about 300 more than on last Wednesday and last Friday. This is simply too high. As is the rate of community transmission - where people are picking up the disease while out and about. Roughly half of all cases are defined as community transmission or "possible community transmission". It is unknown where another quarter of cases picked up the infection. If these numbers fall we will be in a far better place.

Sunday Independent


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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland